The Indian Stray Dog: Caught Between the Pandemic and Elitism

It was disappointing to read a biased and poorly researched article published in the Indian Express on July 27, 2020 that wrongfully targeted dog feeders as the problem behind the overpopulation of stray dogs in what seemed to be a personal rant that overlooked the legal, scientific and social debates surrounding the issue.

In today’s urban, developed India, stray dogs are attempting to survive alongside the human population despite the attempts of some people to destroy them in the name of human concepts such as ‘land ownership’ and ‘taxes’. People taking care of street dogs are fulfilling their constitutional duty by showing compassion towards community animals by ensuring their right to live. The IE article indulges in irresponsible journalism by irrationally blaming these individuals in a cavalier fashion.

The Animal Welfare Board of India is a statutory advisory body whose job is to bring together animal welfare policies and laws in accordance with public wellbeing. Being a part of the Animal Husbandry department does not take away the clear mandate of the AWBI, which is to prevent unnecessary pain and suffering to animals. Section 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, clearly identifies harassing, hitting and threatening the animals as cruel actions. The role of courts in our civilised society is to interpret the law and the functions of bodies like the ABWI.

The ‘scientific methods adopted by neighbouring countries’ and some Indian states have proven to be ineffective for population control, apart from being inhumane and scientifically unwise. There is enough evidence of when humans have tried to manipulate eco-systems, either by introducing or removing species locally, that has gone disastrously wrong.

Instead, we suggest that one look at the progress made by the Netherlands in resolving its stray dog issue. The country took no short cuts in the elimination of strays but strategically followed Animal Birth Control (ABC) Programme protocols and adoption drives, with the government strongly funding these initiatives. We doubt there could be a more scientific approach to the problem.

Also read: On Seeing a Dead Dog on the Street

Relocating stray dogs to shelters is not a practical solution since existing shelters are overcrowded and, given the estimated population of 60 million strays, an evacuated territory is only waiting to be colonised by the next pack who may not be as familiar or tolerant of the humans nearby.

In that, it makes sense to sustain and regulate the current pack in the locality by implementing sterilisation and vaccination drives locally.

The often-demonised community of dog feeders has been recognised by ABWI and the Supreme Court of India as pivotal to the ABC process. Dog-feeders continuously face harassment and threat of violence from their neighbourhoods and reports like the one on the attack on NGO workers in Delhi who were trying to catch dogs for sterilisation are hardly uncommon.

Feeding strays does not create the problem, the problem already exists i.e. overpopulation of strays. If there are several sources of food in a territory, the canines get accustomed to an abundance of food supply and generally behave submissively towards humans. Some people object to dog-feeders on the account that they are not fond of the dogs barking or chasing cars in their neighbourhood, an annoyance that their hefty maintenance fee should immunise them against, nor do they pay taxes for the funds to be redirected to feeding and spaying dogs.

Even if we consider the alleged 20,000 incidents of dogs attacking humans, it would be short-sighted to canonically pin the reason on the dog-feeding in the community. It is problematic if the solutions come at the cost of animal suffering or from a place of privilege for human convenience.

The way to resolve this issue is not by doing away with dogs or dog-feeders, but by having designated feeding spots and times, and regular ABC drives sponsored by the state through municipal corporations.

In a troubling time where thousands of stray animals are dying of starvation on the roads, such malicious journalism only fuels common apathy and animosity towards the street dogs, their feeders and caretakers. If the intention was to comment on the ineffectiveness of the sterilisation and vaccination drives, the author has certainly thrown the baby out with the bath water.

It is true that the AWBI internal audits have discovered mismanagement of funds, but this is an issue of accountability that should be addressed at the ministry level. In no way does it undo the efficacy of the ABC programmes. If India is to meet the WHO’s goal of being free of dog-mediated rabies by 2030, then citizens will have to come together unanimously and humanely to demand adequate funds for effective sterilisation drives.

Poulomi Bhadra is Assistant Professor and Assistant Director, Jindal Institute of Behavioural Sciences ([email protected] ) and Malvika Seth, Assistant Professor and Assistant Dean, Jindal Global Law School ([email protected]).

Featured image credit: Daniele Franchi/Unsplash